Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Daisy Arias suffered sustained, egregious sexual harassment for most of the time she was employed by defendant-petitioner, Blue Fountain Pools & Spas, Inc. The primary culprit was defendant-petitioner, Sean Lagrave, a salesman who worked in the same office as Arias. Arias says Lagrave did everything from repeatedly asking her for dates to grabbing her and describing "his own sexual prowess." Arias complained about Lagrave’s conduct repeatedly over the course of her employment, but things came to a head on April 21, 2017: Lagrave yelled at Arias in front of coworkers, used gender slurs, and then physically assaulted her, bumping her chest with his own. Arias called the police and later left work. Arias told the owner, defendant-petitioner, Farhad Farhadian, she wasn’t comfortable returning to work with Lagrave. Farhadian did nothing initially, refused to remove Lagrave, then terminated Arias’s health insurance, and finally told Arias to pick up her final paycheck. Though Farhadian claimed Arias had quit, she says she was fired. Arias filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and received a right to sue letter on August 14, 2017. She then filed this lawsuit alleging, relevant to this appeal, hostile work environment sex discrimination and failure to prevent sexual harassment. Petitioners moved for summary judgment, seeking, among other things, to have the hostile work environment claim dismissed as time-barred and the failure to prevent harassment claim dismissed as having an insufficient basis after limiting the allegations to the conduct that wasn’t time-barred. The trial court concluded Arias had created a genuine issue of material fact as to all her causes of action and denied the motion. Petitioners brought a petition for writ of mandate, renewing their statute of limitations argument, claiming Arias could not establish a continuing violation because she admitted she had concluded further complaints were futile. The Court of Appeal concluded Arias has shown she could establish a continuing violation with respect to all the complained of conduct that occurred during Farhadian’s ownership of the company. Further, the Court determined there was a factual dispute over whether and when Arias’s employer made clear no action would be taken and whether a reasonable employee would have concluded complaining more was futile: "that question must be resolved by a jury." The Court denied petitioners' request for mandamus relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Blue Fountain Pools and Spas Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Petitioners California Disability Services Association; Horrigan Cole Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Cole Vocational Services; Unlimited Quest, Inc.; Loyd’s Liberty Homes, Inc.; and First Step Independent Living Program, Inc. petitioned for mandamus relief and damages, and sought a declaration against the California Department of Developmental Services (Department) and its director, Nancy Bargmann (collectively respondents). Petitioners challenged the Department’s denial of their requests for a rate adjustment due to the increase of the minimum wage, which, in turn, impacted the salaries of their exempt program directors, who had to be paid twice the minimum wage. The trial court denied petitioners’ petition and complaint for declaratory relief finding providers’ classification of the program directors as exempt employees was not mandated by law, thus “there is no ministerial duty imposed on the Department to grant a wage increase request in order to accommodate continued entitlement to the exemption.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California Disability Services Assn. v. Bargmann" on Justia Law

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A jury returned verdicts in favor of plaintiff Timothy King against defendant U.S. Bank National Association (U.S. Bank) for defamation, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, awarding King almost $24.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages. King started in the position of senior vice president regional manager, market lead, and market president for U.S. Bank’s Sacramento area in January 2007. In 2012, two of King's subordinates contacted the Bank's human resources department, raising claims of gender discrimination and harassment. There was substantial evidence from which the jury found the subordinates were biased and hostile toward King, and thus there were "obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of the informant[s] or the accuracy of his [and her] reports." U.S. Bank moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the ground that there was no substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdicts and the award of punitive damages. The trial court denied the motion. U.S. Bank also moved for new trial on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support the verdicts, the damages were excessive, and there was an irregularity in the proceedings that prevented a fair trial. The trial court conditionally granted the motion for new trial on the excessive damages ground conditioned upon King agreeing to a remittitur, but denied the motion on the other grounds asserted. King accepted the remittitur and the trial court entered judgment on the remitted award of over $5.4 million. U.S. Bank appeals, challenging the jury’s verdicts on each of the causes of action and the remitted award of punitive damages. King cross-appealed, challenging the trial court’s new trial orders on excessive damages. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s new trial orders, but agreed with the trial court, following its own independent review, that a one-to-one ratio between compensatory and punitive damages was the constitutional limit under the facts of this case. The Court remanded with directions to modify the judgment accordingly. View "King v. U.S. Bank National Assn." on Justia Law

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After the Department discharged plaintiff based on her failure to report another deputy's use of force against an inmate and her failure to seek medical assistance for the inmate, the Commission affirmed the discharge. However, the trial court granted plaintiff's petition for writ of mandate and directed the Commission to set aside the discharge, award her back pay, and reconsider a lesser penalty.The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the Department did not abuse its discretion in discharging plaintiff where plaintiff's conduct furthered the code of silence at the Men's Central Jail, requiring the Department to take action. In this case, plaintiff's conduct in following the code of silence undermined the Department's trust and confidence in plaintiff as a deputy sheriff and negatively impacted the operation of the jail. Furthermore, at the Commission hearing, plaintiff minimized her responsibility to report the use of force. Therefore, given the Department's reasoned explanation that the discharge was necessary, the court concluded that this is not the exceptional case where reasonable minds cannot differ on the appropriate penalty. The court remanded for the trial court to enter a new judgment denying the petition for writ of mandate. View "Pasos v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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Chris Garner sued Inter-State Oil Company alleging employment claims and seeking certification of a class action. Based on an arbitration agreement between Garner and Inter-State Oil, the trial court granted Inter-State Oil’s petition to compel arbitration of individual claims only, effectively denying Garner the ability to pursue class action claims. The trial court relied on language in the arbitration agreement stating that Garner waived his right to participate in class action lawsuits. On appeal of the order granting the motion to compel arbitration, Garner contended: (1) the plain language of the arbitration agreement gave him the right to pursue his class claims in arbitration; and (2) Inter-State Oil waived reliance on the arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) the arbitration agreement required arbitration of Garner’s class claims; and (2) Inter-State Oil did not waive reliance on the arbitration agreement. The Court modified the trial court’s order to require arbitration of both individual and class claims, and affirmed the order as modified. View "Garner v. Inter-State Oil Co." on Justia Law

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The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) determined that Ernest Moreno’s retirement benefits had been incorrectly calculated and initiated proceedings to adjust Moreno’s retirement benefits and collect the overpayment. The trial court denied Moreno’s petition for writ of administrative mandamus challenging the CalSTRS actions. Moreno appealed, contending: (1) CalSTRS’s adjustment of his retirement benefits and collection of the overpayment were barred by the statute of limitations found in Education Code section 22008 (c) because CalSTRS was on inquiry notice of the problem as early as 2008; and (2) CalSTRS should have been equitably estopped from adjusting his retirement benefits and collecting the overpayments. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) CalSTRS was not on inquiry notice of the reporting error that led to overpayment until December 2014 when it began an audit of Moreno’s retirement benefits, and, therefore, CalSTRS’s adjustments to Moreno’s retirement benefits and collection of overpayments were not barred by the statute of limitations; and (2) CalSTRS was not equitably estopped because CalSTRS was not apprised of (or on notice about) the overpayments until December 2014. View "Moreno v. Cal. State Teachers' Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The Icee Company and J & J Snack Foods Corp. (collectively, Icee) appealed a trial court’s order denying their motion to compel arbitration of a dispute with a former employee. The employee, Taraun Collie, alleged a single cause of action against Icee under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). Collie alleged that he worked for Icee from November 2014 to August 2015. When he began his employment, he signed an arbitration agreement. In July 2016, Collie filed his PAGA complaint on behalf of himself and other aggrieved employees. Icee moved to compel arbitration of Collie’s “individual claim” in August 2018. It argued that the parties had agreed to bilateral arbitration only, so Collie had to arbitrate his PAGA cause of action on an individual basis—that is, he could not seek PAGA penalties on behalf of other Icee employees. And because Collie had agreed to arbitrate all claims or controversies with Icee, he had effectively waived his right to bring a PAGA action on behalf of other employees in any forum. The trial court denied Icee’s motion, concluding that the California Supreme Court’s decision in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014), required that result. The Court of Appeal concluded that under Iskanian, an employee could not be compelled to arbitrate a PAGA cause of action on the basis of a predispute arbitration agreement, thereby affirming the trial court. View "Collie v. The Icee Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal denied the petition for review challenging the Board's finding that Gerawan committed unfair labor practices by (1) engaging in bad faith "surface bargaining," and (2) insisting on the exclusion of workers employed by farm labor contractors (FLC workers) from the core benefits of any collective bargaining agreement (CBA) reached between Gerawan and the union. The findings were based on Gerawan's bargaining conduct both before and after the Board ordered the parties to "mandatory mediation and conciliation" (MMC) under the MMC statutory scheme, Labor Code section 1164 et seq.The court held that there is no conflict between the MMC statute and the Alatorre-Zenovich-Dunlap-Berman Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 (ALRA) with respect to imposing unfair practice liability for acts arising from the parties' negotiation sessions held outside the mediator's presence; the Board's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole; section 1160 empowers the Board to adjudicate unfair labor practice charges that arise from negotiations outside the mediator's presence during the MMC process, and this necessarily includes the power, should the Board find that a party has engaged in an unfair labor practice, to, among other things, make employees whole "for the loss of pay resulting from the employer’s refusal to bargain;" and because Gerawan has not shown that Board Member Hall had an actual bias or there was an unacceptable risk of bias, the Board did not err when it denied Gerawan's disqualification motion. View "Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Members of IATSE, lighting technicians, filed suit against CMS for wage-and-hour violations under the California Labor Code incurred in the 2016 production of a television commercial for Ulta Beauty. The superior court granted CMS's motion for summary judgment on the ground that CMS was not an employer of the four IATSE members.The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded, holding that CMS failed to demonstrate it is not an employer within the meaning of IWC Wage Order No. 12-2001. In this case, CMS has failed to establish the AICP-IATSE Commercial Production Agreement (CPA) permits a signatory to avoid its responsibilities as an employer when it lends its signatory status to a nonsignatory producer. Furthermore, a triable issue of fact exists as to CMS's right to control aspects of the production and its failure to ensure compliance with the CPA. View "Mattei v. Corporate Management Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured while performing work in the Adult Offender Work Program (AOWP), he filed suit against the county for its failure to accommodate his preexisting physical disability and failure to engage in the interactive process under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the county. The court held that an individual sentenced to perform work activities in lieu of incarceration in the absence of any financial remuneration, is precluded, as a matter of law, from being an "employee" within the meaning of the FEHA. The court explained that, while remuneration alone is not a sufficient condition to establish an individual is an employee under the statute, it is an essential one. Because plaintiff earned no sufficient financial remuneration as a result of participation in the AOWP, he could not be deemed an employee under the FEHA. The court did not reach plaintiff's remaining arguments. View "Talley v. County of Fresno" on Justia Law